Klick Health

Press pause: Google Chrome and Flash ads

VP Media Planning

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Recently, Google released new updates to its Chrome browser in response to improving the user experience and minimizing battery usage from Adobe Flash.  One of these updates will detect and automatically pause Flash-based advertising on the page.  This feature already exists in Chrome but is currently defaulted to run all plug-in content (see appendix for ad examples based on the three settings outlined below).

Chrome settings

Chrome settings

As early as September 1, 2015, Chrome will default to detect and run important plug-in content only, meaning any primary video content on the page.  However, a few Klicksters changed the setting to detect and run important plug-in content and noticed that all Flash-based ads were paused even without a primary video on the page.

There is also inconsistency with how a Flash ad appears on a page, i.e. in this instance, Medscape doesn’t show any frames whereas Quality Health showed the first couple of frames before pausing the ad.  It is uncertain at this time whether this is due to the page script, Chrome functionality or how the Flash ad was coded.

Inconsistency in display

Inconsistency in display

Inconsistency in display

Inconsistency in display

Although a user can choose to switch the option on, off or have Chrome prompt the user when to play noncentral items such as Flash animations, we doubt many users will change the default setting.

Update Tuesday, July 14 2015

Following Google’s recent announcement that as of September 1, 2015 it will default to pausing Flash content, Firefox has followed suit but in a swifter fashion.
Late last night, Firefox decided to block Flash by default, claiming that the current Flash code is vulnerable putting their users at risk for malware.  What this means is that Flash ads will not display properly on Firefox.
If you have Flash ads, it’s high-time to switch to HTML5.  With Chrome representing  37%-48% of the US browser market, and Firefox representing 10%-16% (depending on the source), a significant browser share will be missed.  As an immediate solution, pause serving Flash ads to Firefox browsers while you retraffic the campaign to serve static backup.

What this means for advertisers

Campaign & Branded Messaging Reach

Unless your banner ads are HTML5, there’s a high possibility that your ads will not be fully seen unless the viewer clicks to animate the banner or chooses to turn off the default option, which is unlikely.  With Chrome being the preferred browser and having 37% to 48% share of the browser market (depending on the source), that’s a significant amount of ad impressions that will be wasted, though we’ll still be charged for the ad impression and ad serving cost.

MLR Implications

More importantly, if the brand messaging or logo is displayed during the first few seconds then paused, many ads would not be compliant from a regulatory perspective with this new functionality unless the paused screen was reminder ad-compliant, and this excludes all black box drug ads. Additionally, the banner ad is approved by the regulatory committee as a unit, and therefore any differences in animation may not be compliant from a regulatory eye.

Will this eventually apply to HTML5?  We highly doubt it.  Early last year, Google switched to HTML5 in Chrome so we suspect that these recent updates will not impact HTML5 ads.

The good news

Although it may seem cumbersome now to build already approved Flash ads to HTML5, there are benefits to HTML5.

Minimizing the number of static ads served

When a browser cannot support a Flash ad, a Backup Static Ad is served.  This minimizes our full branded message delivery though we are still charged the full media CPM on the impression.  By building ads to HTML5, we have a greater chance of having our full branded messaging seen across devices that do not support Flash-based ads.

Optimizing your campaigns to mobile & tablet

Our goal is to reach our audience across channels that are aligned to our audience’s media behaviors, while minimizing the costs of creative production across platforms.  By building assets in HTML5 versus Flash, we maximize the opportunity to repurpose and/or extend the branded assets onto mobile and tablet.

Cost & Timing Implications

Ad Serving Cost

To directly convert current approved Flash banners to HTML5 and make them look exactly the same, the total file size will increase given that HTML5 files are always larger by nature due to coding.  As a result, ad serving fees will increase but insignificantly, i.e. the maximum file size is 40k-60k depending on the vendor. An additional $0.02 per thousand will be applied to file sizes larger than 60k on every 5k over the ad size limit.

Google also recently launched a new enhanced banner format which is said to have no file size limit, and this may be to help transition to HTML5.  More information is pending.  However, we still need to adhere to individual vendor file size maximums.

Another option is to update the approved ad and eliminate some animations and functionality to minimize the file size however this will potentially require more production time, lower ad quality and an additional MLR submission.

If an HTML5 approved version is not ready by September, the other option is to rely on the static backup ad until the HTML5 version is ready.  This will be managed through our ad server, DFA.  We’ll set up the campaign so that DFA will detect a user’s browser and serve the static backup to a Chrome browser.

Additional Time Required for Trafficking/QA

As mentioned above, the short-term solution while waiting for final approved HTML5 is to serve the backup static ad to Chrome browsers.  This will require re-trafficking and retagging the campaign over a two-week period.  However, this will ensure that our campaign is fully compliant.

Recommendation

Overall, we see this update to Chrome as an improvement to user experience and a positive push to standardize ad formats that can run across all devices.  Therefore, we recommend building all campaigns to HTML5 while ensuring we build to ad and file size specifications.  We don’t recommend changing functionality or animation of the ad as it will require additional production time and MRL submission.

To minimize disruptions in Flash-based advertising and to ensure regulatory compliance if HTML5 functionality is not available by September 1, our recommendation is to serve a reminder ad-compliant or unbranded (for black box drugs) backup static image until the HTML5 version is approved and ready to Chrome browsers. Regulatory committees should also be made aware that Flash animation may perform differently on a site and browser-specific basis.

In addition to HTML5 ad requirements, as of June 30, 2015, all creative assets are required to be SSL Compliant.  SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browsers remain private and integral.  SSL compliant creative do not use http in any of their URLs (must use https only). This includes any tracking URLs, redirects, or other content requests. The one exception is click-through URLs, which may use http.

NOTE: All of our ads are currently 100% SSL compliant however any new ads being built will require this process to ensure SSL compliance.

You can see the Google article for reference: https://support.google.com/dcm/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6035903

More About the Author

Johanna Maulawin

Johanna oversees the Display Channel practice with a passion for understanding the audience and how the constant evolving technology and channels can be used for meaningful engagements.

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